Do we continue to work from home?

Over the last 18 months or so, many of us have been working from home. It came as a shock for all initially, the challenges that followed were a national talking point and shared experience. Of course, our primary concern was for the nation's key workers during the most troubling of times, and we remain ever thankful. 

But creating a workspace somewhere in the home, no longer dressing for the office, and perhaps one of the biggest welcome changes - no more stress, hassle, and lost time commuting became the 'new normal', to use a phrase of the time. And then, the realization that a better work-life balance really could be achieved.

Lockdowns meant many people found themselves running their department, managing their team, attending important meetings, and even expanding their business - all from the kitchen table. With great Bristish resolve (although of course, this was happening globally) we learned, adapted, and soon became quite used to not going to the office. 

As the UK normalizes due to the successful vaccine program, employers are making decisions on where their staff might be working going forward. Some are beginning to encourage people back to the office, some have already made the decision for their employees. But what do we really want?  Are workers rushing back to their old desks? Or for those lucky enough to have the option, is remote working preferred? or a combination of both? And so, is the need for office space in the home now essential? what type of property do we buy next? and with no need to commute, what impact does this have on where we live?

What does the latest research say?

Documenting the shift to remote work during the pandemic, the Office for National Statistics said the number of people who did some work at home in 2020 rose by 9.4 percentage points from a year earlier to 35.9% of the workforce – representing more than 11 million employees.

However, there were substantial variations between occupations and parts of the country, reflecting the differing experiences of the pandemic for workers as some were hit harder by the crisis than others. Staff based at home took less than half the amount of sick leave, with 2 days compared with 4 for other employees, reflecting the reduced risk of catching an infection. The ONS said people might also feel well enough to work from home while sick if they did not have to travel.

But while there is no daily commute and greater flexibility, the research found those who work consistently from home are less likely to be promoted, in a sign that they could be overlooked due to reduced face-to-face interaction with colleagues and managers. The study comes as companies across advanced economies adapt to ways of working accelerated by the pandemic, aided by technological advances, and consider making more permanent changes to where staff is based.

Raising questions over workers’ rights, career development, and wider economic performance, many businesses including JP Morgan and HSBC have said thousands of staff may never return to the office, while HSBC told the Financial Times it had got rid of the executive floor at its Canary Wharf skyscraper as part of a move to more remote working.

But in a sign of a two-speed jobs market developing, the ONS said some people were more likely to work from home than others. According to the study, London had the highest rate of people working from home, at 43% of the local workforce, Northern Ireland the lowest, at 26% by comparison. London has a higher proportion of jobs in finance and professional services where working from home is possible, unlike other parts of the country. However, the ONS found London and south-east England still had higher proportions of home working than other parts of the country after adjusting for industry mix, suggesting other factors could be at play. Setting out the different experiences of the pandemic for white- and blue-collar staff, the study showed 62% of IT and communications staff worked from home at least some of the time last year, the highest of any sector. More than half of employees in professional, scientific, and technical activities, as well as in financial services, were in the same position.

Microsoft's findings
 

Microsoft UK research found workers are happier working from home but also feel more pressure to be always available to bosses. The pandemic has seen a dramatic shift to remote working over the past year. A new report from Microsoft Surface and YouGov, entitled Work Smarter to live Better has found that almost 9 out of 10 (87%) employees reported their businesses have adapted to hybrid working. 55% now use their lunch break to focus on their personal life and 56% reported an increase in their levels of happiness working from home.

However, many employees said that they are being stretched further in the work they need to deliver. Nearly one in three (30%) reported an increase in their hours while working from home, and more than half (53%) feel they have to be available at all times. As a result of these new pressures, 36% of those surveyed said mental health and resilience resources were the most popular options when it came to choosing training to build remote working skills.

Employees miss seeing their colleagues in person, and the opportunity for social interaction is a key driver for people’s decision to go into the office as guidelines allow. For the majority (65%), socializing is what they miss most when they work remotely. 

Changing attitudes

Although firms across the UK are currently taking a digital-first approach, few plan to have a 100% remote workforce for the long term. The likeliest scenario is that most organizations will adopt a hybrid working model, with the workforce split between working remotely and working in the office.

While some businesses – especially those with large, costly offices on long leases might be encouraging employees to return, many companies have accepted that remote working is liable to remain part of the working landscape.

How does this change where and how people will live?

One of the key challenges faced during the pandemic was how to both work and live comfortably in the same place. For many, working from home ultimately necessitated a move, people soon began a search for properties that would provide extra space and comfort, even during the lockdowns. People started looking further afield for properties that, for the same price, would provide room for an in-house office, a garden, access to green space, or a combination of the three. For the capital Foxtons data revealed that during 2020, 700,000 residents left London entirely, while almost 1 in 4 (22%) of those who were previously central London residents decided to move away from the heart of the Capital. People’s property requirements altered, with more focus placed on living space than on transport links or proximity to places of work, and quality of life was prioritized ahead of convenience. Property search on Ocean's website by 'London IP addresses' rose by over 10%, and we can certainly confirm our offices across the whole of Bristol have met and handled purchases for many London buyers.

What about Bristol? well, there certainly has been a huge amount of moving, record-breaking for our 38 years. And yes, home working factors have been a primary consideration, also gaining or being close by outdoor space. It's fair to say more people are considering further out from the center, although we are by no means experiencing an exodus. In fact, more recently we are seeing a renewed interest in the actual city center and harbourside apartments from younger buyers who would traditionally choose urban living. In true Bristol tradition, the focus remains on local neighborhoods, utilizing (supporting) local businesses and amenities, whilst reduced commuting offered greater choice across and near the city.

It's fair to say (and is well-reported by Rightmove) that Devon & Cornwall is proving extremely popular, we've lost a few Bristolians seeking rural living further southwest, they're also exploring semi-rural locations around the city.

In the main, where possible, our buyers seek a little more space inside & out, comfort and security, and the opportunity to pursue that work-life balance in the city we all love.

And! clever home office solutions to more easily maintain that work-life balance in the house, apartment, or flat, something to look at in another blog perhaps?... 





 

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